Cuomo Pledges Marsha P. Johnson Park, Pushes #WalkingWhileTrans Repeal

Governor Andrew Cuomo addresses the crowd at the Marriott Marquis during the February 1 Human Rights Campaign’s Greater New York gala.
Office of Governor Andrew Cuomo/ Kevin P. Coughlin

Governor Andrew Cuomo used his speech at the Human Rights Campaign Greater New York gala on February 1 to voice his support for legislation that would repeal a loitering statute that has allowed law enforcement to arrest transgender women simply for walking down the street.

“This year — with your help — we must pass gestational surrogacy and expedite the second-parent adoption process to complete marriage and family equality,” Cuomo said at the Marriott Marquis event Saturday evening. “Also this year, we must pass a repeal of the so-called Walking While Trans statute, so that people will no longer be unfairly targeted for what they look like.”

In the same speech, Cuomo also announced he would be renaming East River State Park in Williamsburg after LGBTQ icon Marsha P. Johnson, who was among the first to actively resist on the first night of the 1969 Stonewall Riots and remained involved in the political organizing that followed. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last year that the city would erect a monument on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village dedicated to Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, a friend of Johnson’s and a fellow transgender activist in the immediate post-Stonewall years.

Cuomo’s endorsement of the movement to repeal Section 240.37 of the penal law is a key step forward for the Repeal #WalkingWhileTrans Ban coalition, which formed out of the DecrimNY coalition this year. The DecrimNY coalition sought to fully decriminalize sex work and unveiled legislation last year to do so, but advocates have since shifted their focus for now on ensuring lawmakers swiftly repeal the loitering law. The loitering law has disproportionately targeted transgender women of color.

Following Cuomo’s announcement, the #WalkingWhileTrans Ban coalition praised the governor and turned its attention to state lawmakers.

“We applaud Governor Cuomo’s support for the bill and we echo his call… We look forward to working together with the Governor to ensure Black and Latinx women and TGNC [transgender and gender-nonconforming] communities are no longer arbitrarily targeted for gender-based stop-and-frisk policing,” the coalition said in a written statement. “We urge lawmakers to stand against gender-based profiling and stand with the hundreds of TGNC and cis women who have been harmed by this law for four decades.”

Out gay State Senator Brad Hoylman of Manhattan and Assemblymember Amy Paulin of Westchester are prime sponsors of the legislation. Hoylman offered positive words for the governor shortly after his announcement.

“Thank you, @NYGovCuomo,” Hoylman wrote in a tweet. “We are fortunate to have an executive who always stands up for LGBTQ New Yorkers.”

The effort to repeal the loitering law faltered down the stretch during last year’s legislative session after the bill reached the Assembly floor but stalled in the Senate Codes Committee.

In the meantime, the NYPD updated its patrol guide last year to stop targeting people on the basis of “gender, gender identity, clothing, and location,” though it is not just an issue in New York City. According to the #WalkingWhileTrans Ban coalition, cops have made such arrests in Oneida County and Onondaga County, as well as in Suffolk County on Long Island.

Whether the legislation will pass this session is yet to be determined, but advocates told Gay City News late last month that they are confident that lawmakers will gut the discriminatory loitering law this session.